As a spiritual psychologist, Jana Rentzel sees many people whose spirits are troubled, buffeted by the usual challenges of life as well as the events of the past year — the pandemic, political turmoil, racial injustices.  Having graduated from the Perkins Certificate in Spiritual Direction program in 2019, Rentzel says, she’s better equipped to help.

“The program allowed me to become much more skilled in understanding and addressing a client’s current orientation in terms of their own spiritual journey and helping them clarify their spiritual goals and apply them to their everyday lives,” she said.

Those interested in working in spiritual direction — the art of accompaniment and guidance of others in their spiritual journey — are invited to apply for the next cohort of the Perkins Certificate in Spiritual Direction program, which begins in April. Registration is now open; deadline for submission is February 28.

“Spiritual directors are trained to listen, pray, and ask questions in a fashion that encourages directees to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives,” said Ruben Habito, director of the program. “They ask the kind of questions that nurture the growth of wisdom, using the tools and values that have been sharpened over two millennia of prayerful observation.”

“I am heartily convinced that spiritual direction is crucial in meeting the needs of individuals who seek to lead a more fulfilling and meaningful life,” Rentzel added.

New Cohort

The non-credit, continuing education program trains graduate students, lay people and clergy, and is offered in a user-friendly, non-traditional format to accommodate their busy lives.  Training courses take place in eight weekend sessions held in April, August and December over a period of three years. (New cohorts begin in April and August only). Participants receive a certificate of completion after all required courses and training have been successfully fulfilled.

Rentzel, a PhD spiritual psychologist in private practice for more than 25 years, enrolled after observing growing public interest in spiritual growth. Often, she said, struggles with other names have a spiritual component.

“The main difference between spiritual direction and psychotherapy is that you are bringing in that higher power,” she said. “With this work, there are three people involved – the client, the spiritual director, and God or the Holy Spirit, who is the true counselor. You’re helping the client cut right down to the root cause, to get past whatever is obscuring them to be free to love, to care, to accept differences, and to really find joy.”

A key tool of spiritual direction is mindfulness meditation, Rentzel added.

“Meditation increases our deeper awareness and our ability to stay centered in our innermost core,” she said. “When we do that, we’re not coming from fear, we’re coming from love. We’re just in a more centered place within ourselves and within our truth. We can stay open, keep our heart open, because we know there is a divine purpose and a divine plan.”

Deep Roots

Rentzel thinks that the kind of spiritual work that spiritual directors nurture could help address many of the issues of incivility, hatred and polarization that have troubled so many of late.

“Spiritual direction is essentially getting at the deep root cause of our issues – whether they’re manifesting as anger, fear, or racial hatred,” she said. “Those are things that are beleaguering our country and our world right now.”

Approaching conflicts from a spiritual context allows people to have more compassion, Rentzel added, and that gives them more freedom from feeling threatened and defensive.

“In our human mindset we rarely have that broader perspective,” she said. “We see life as a duality. We become very defensive and things escalate. That’s so much of what’s happening in the world today. Each side has its own stories. The truth lies somewhere way beneath and beyond.”

The Certificate for Spiritual Direction program was initiated in 2010 under the leadership of Dr. Frederick Schmidt, with a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. Initially a two-year program, the curriculum was expanded in 2016 with additional practicum sessions. To date, more than 300 students have earned certifications.

New cohorts begin each year in April and August, with students progressing together over the course of three years of coursework. Students study throughout the year, reading books, writing papers and attending online classes, then gather on campus for eight weekend class sessions during the three years. Students are encouraged to meet regularly with a spiritual director at least six months before beginning the program and to continue to meet at least monthly while in the program. The program is ecumenical and works within a Christian framework

“It’s open to all spiritual seekers,” Habito said. “Anyone who can understand and appreciate what is offered through the Christian perspective is welcome.”

Rentzel believes many people can benefit from the program.

“To anyone desiring to realize their full, God-given potential and to help others do the same, the Perkins training in spiritual direction is a must,” Rentzel said. “Whether they apply their training by practicing as a spiritual director or simply use their comprehensive new skills to enrich the lives of those in their current sphere of influence, this program will add great depth and height of meaning to every endeavor.”